I’m just not sure what to say any more…

As I watch the news every day, I find myself shaking my head…wondering if I’m in a bad dream that I will wake up from…wondering if I’m caught in a time warp…wondering if I’m the one living in an alternate universe…

And I’m just not sure what to say any more.

Sometimes I’m not even sure what to do–or what I can do…

  • When facts become labeled “fake news”…
  • when individuals who loudly proclaim their support of family values find nothing wrong in supporting an administration whose policies tear families apart…
  • when those who say they follow Jesus–the same Jesus who said “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble”–when those followers see nothing wrong with causing incredible trauma to little ones by separating them from parents who are seeking a better life for their children….
  • when those whose skin is a different color…or who worship differently…are demonized and considered “less than”…
  • when those who have fought in defense of long-held values are told that their injuries are not particularly serious…when this comes from a commander-in-chief who used bone spurs to keep from serving himself…
  • when those in need of health care cannot afford it–or die because they cannot afford their prescriptions…
  • when tax cuts harm the poor in order to benefit the rich…
  • when people of color find themselves targeted for simply “living while black…”
  • when those who are LGBTQ find that the laws that have protected them are systematically being rolled back…
  • when the incredible diversity and beauty of this world is being destroyed to build walls…being destroyed for mining…

How can I respond? What can I do?

Some mornings I’m just not sure. But then John Pavlovitz reminds me that there are things I can do…

So today, instead of looking to the sky and waiting for a pastor or a politician or some invisible force to come in and dramatically beat back the darkness—you wield the brilliant light in your possession.

Maybe you’re the hero you’ve been waiting for.
Maybe you’re the answer to your urgent prayers.
Maybe hope isn’t in the sky.
Maybe it’s in the mirror.

Children watch…and learn…

I was reminded recently of how observant children are, even when we’re not aware they’re watching or listening.

Sometimes it’s amusing. My 3-year-old granddaughter was playing with her dolls, especially her Anna and Elsa ones. She decided one of them was misbehaving, so she put her in time out for 10 minutes. We were eavesdropping, enjoying listening to her channel her mother as she said, “You need to go in time out! Don’t you ever do that again…I’m so tired of it!”

But other times it’s not funny. It’s sad.

When we tell our children that they should be patient…but we lay on the horn when someone is slow to start after a light turns green, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we sing “Jesus loves all the children of the world”…but we loudly support putting children in cages and separating them from their families because their skin is a different color or they worship differently, which will they follow–our words of our actions?

When we say that all people are of worth…but we protest against giving people who love someone of the same sex the opportunity to marry, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we teach them that telling the truth is important…but we praise and vote for a man who consistently lies, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we teach them that taking care of the environment is important…but we clap loudly when regulations that help do that are removed or we support bulldozing of national treasures or sacred sites, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we say that education is important…but we praise and support leaders who tear down and ignore the perspectives of those who have spent years learning in their fields, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we say that it’s important to treat people with respect…that when a woman says “no,” that’s what she means…that sexual relationships should be mutual…but we see nothing wrong with a president who mocks the disabled or who boasts of his sexual assaults, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When our words and our actions don’t match…when they contradict each other…what will our children follow? Our words or our actions?

My father had a saying: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Children watch…and learn. What are we teaching?

 

Do we have eyes to see?

I have often wondered at what appears to have been the willful blindness of many who lived in Germany in the 1930s. How could they not have seen what was happening in front of them? How could they later say that they were not aware of the slide into facism that seems so clear in retrospect?

And now I find myself wondering the same thing in my own country…in my own time.

There are organizations that have studied how facism develops and they have created a list of warning signs:

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism – “my country first” and making the country great again…use of the flag everywhere
  • Disdain for human rights – the security of the country requires that some human rights can be ignored for the “greater good”
  • Identification of enemies / scapegoats – specific groups are identified as being the cause of many (if not all) of a country’s problems
  • Supremacy of the military – the military gets a disproportionate amount of the budget, often at the expense of domestic needs
  • Sexism – there are rigid gender roles and the government is the “guardian” of family values
  • Control of the media – the government either directly (by regulation) or indirectly (by using sympathic media spokespersons) controls what is shared in the news
  • Obsession with national security – the need for security is fueled by fear
  • Religion and government are intertwined – government leaders use religious language even when the actions they take are in direct opposition to the religious beliefs and tenets
  • Corporate power is protected – the government supports industry and business, often at the expense of the average person
  • Labor power is suppressed – labor unions are seen as detrimental and actions are taken to weaken them
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts – education is seen in a negative way and the arts are attacked
  • Obsession with crime and punishment – police are given power to do almost anything to keep order without any recourse for the average citizen
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption – government is made up of friends and family and people who will support whatever the ruler wants with no accountability
  • Fraudulent elections – smear campaigns against individuals are common as is legislation to control voting boundaries

Do we have eyes to see? Or will we be among those who say “I had no idea”…?

 

Random musings…

Like many, I watched the Super Bowl. I’m a Chiefs fan–and I love the way that they’ve never given up, even when conventional wisdom has counted them out. They believe in themselves…encourage each other…and find ways to accomplish their task.

I also watched the halftime show. There has been lots of talk about the show–pro and con. I think the show has triggered some important discussions…about sexuality…about women’s choices…about culture.

I’m not a fan of skimpy outfits on performers or cheerleaders, regardless of sex, race, or culture. But what bothers me more than the outfits (or lack thereof) are overt simulations of sex…or grinding against each other…of crotch shots.

I’m glad there was a celebration of Latino culture, and I’m grateful for those who have taken the time to provide some context and education about what was being celebrated during the show.

And then there was the State of the Union address. While I have often not agreed with an administration, I have appreciated how previous presidents have used this time to try to find ways to pull the country together.

But this did not. In fact, it seemed designed to continue to pit us against each other…to divide.

I will freely admit, I have never liked Rush Limbaugh. I think he is one of the most divisive radio personalities we have had. I am sorry for his recent diagnosis–but I do not believe that is cause to give him a medal that in the past has been a recognition of someone who has done service to the country–not spouting off misogynistic, racist, and sexually demeaning commentary.

I am also disappointed in the behavior of those who should be setting examples of civil behavior.

I wonder if we will ever be able find common cause again…if we will be able to listen to and talk with each other. Will we be able to pull together to solve the significant challenges that face not just us but our world?

Or are we doomed to deepen the divide that has been on display recently?

For the sake of the future of our children and grandchildren, I hope it’s the former.

Is this how the dream dies?

Over 200 years ago, a nation formed with a new dream–where government was going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was going to be a government where all people had opportunity to succeed…where dreams could come true.

Did that ever completely happen? No…but the dream was always there, always providing the foundation.

There were problems. There were times when some people were considered “less than” others…times when some who looked different or who spoke other languages were not welcomed….

But people kept trying. They kept hoping…kept working…and challenged each other to be better than they had been.

They were given the gift of a statue with part of a poem inscribed on it–a statue and hope that encapsulated the dreams of both the people who were part of that experiment and others who wanted to be part of it.

While there were sometimes leaders who pandered to the worst instincts of people, most of them encouraged the people to try to live up to the dream. They also realized that for the dream to truly be a reality, they needed to take care of their land…to try to make sure that everyone could stay healthy.

And in doing all this, they began to be a symbol to other countries of what could be. They worked together with other leaders to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

They didn’t always succeed. But they kept trying.

Until now.

And now I’m afraid that dream…that great experiment…is dying.

It has been dying for some time; many of us just weren’t aware of how sick it was. But it’s clear now.

This great experiment said that there needs to be checks and balances between the three parts of government–but that has failed.

We have a leader who has signaled that he believes he can do anything he wants–and nobody in government has the right to stop him. We have a leader who has ignored people with expertise in a variety of fields in favor of “yes” men and women. We have a leader who has cozied up to dictators while tearing apart our relationships with those who have been our allies. We have a leader who has openly mocked people with disabilities…who has boasted of sexual assault…who has supported individuals and policies that have further marginalized and put in danger those who are already marginalized…who has made it acceptable to be racist and xenophobic. We have a leader who lies so frequently that it has become impossible to tell when (if) he is telling the truth. We have a leader who has claimed to be a Christian but whose words, actions, and policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus asked of his followers.

We have an administration where those who are holding various leadership positions are openly hostile to the responsibilities of those Cabinet positions…and/or have actively fought against them in the past. We have an administration that has given tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that provide safety nets to the less fortunate. We have an administration that has rolled back protections for the environment that have made it safer for individuals…and that is opening up protected lands to activities that will destroy them for short-term interests.

Many of us assumed that this dream–this experiment–could not be destroyed…that it might change, but that it would last. And so we are also to blame for what is happening because of our complacency.

Can this dream be revived? I hope so…for the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But it’s going to take all of us–and we have to be willing to work together.

“Miracle at Midnight”

We watched “Miracle at Midnight” on Disney+ last night…and I had trouble sleeping.

Told basically through the eyes of one family, it’s the story of the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 after plans were made for mass arrests and deportations beginning at midnight on the start of Rosh Hashana. It’s an incredible story–and resulted in the survival of 99% of the Danish Jews.

It’s a Disney movie…so while there is violence that is an integral part of the story, the violence was not what kept me awake.

No, what kept my mind stirred up were questions of how I would have reacted. Would I have had the courage this family (and the many other families) did? To have risked the lives of my loved ones in order to shelter someone I didn’t know?

I hope so.

In some cases they were friends…neighbors…business associates…teachers. But in many cases, they were strangers–taken in because that was the right thing to do.

They weren’t demonized as faceless “others.” It didn’t matter that they believed or worshiped differently. They were part of the community.

Those who took the Jews in and hid them until they could be moved to safety did so because they believed in living out their faith. They took to heart the words in their sacred scriptures (Matthew 25:35-36):

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

Could I have done the same? Can I?

 

Following Jesus … no turning back

Something I’ve been thinking about for myself and all of us who claim Christianity…

Jesus said “Follow me.” Not just when it’s convenient…or easy…or when everyone else agrees.

He said “Love your neighbor.” Not just when they’re easy to love…or when they’re the same background / race / religion / ethnicity / gender identity…

He said “Take up your cross…and follow me.” Sometimes I don’t want to follow him–because I know it may lead to persecution…or death. Sometimes I don’t want to follow him because I want my life to be easy. I want to get along with all the people around me.

But if I say I am a follower of Jesus…if I claim the mantle of Christianity…then I am called to challenge the status quo…to stand up for and with the marginalized…to speak out against injustice and violence…no matter what.

There’s a song in my denomination’s hymnal that goes like this:

I have decided to follow Jesus (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The story goes that it was sung by a man in India who came to know Christ and left the head hunter tradition of his tribe. He was challenged to deny his faith or face execution. He stood firm–even though his wife and children were killed in front of him before he too was killed–and left this song as his testimony.

May it also be mine.